Substitute teaching is one of society’s most notoriously unpleasant professions. For Ron Williams II, it was a relaxed way to give a little back to society as he was cooling his heels over the last year. Williams has spent his adult life working seven days a week most weeks, typically starting at 4:30 am, when he drives from Piper, Kansas, all the way to Overland Park to light the fires at his family’s barbecue pit, Wyandot BBQ. That all changed on December 3 of 2021 when a fire started in the kitchen at Wyandot II on 75th Street.
“One of the guys was pulling brisket out of the oven—it was a real windy day that day, kinda warm—and the wind just pushed the fire out of the box and he couldn’t handle it,” Williams says. “It spread pretty quick and burned our kitchen up pretty good.”’
It took almost a year of haggling with the insurance company and overseeing renovations to reopen Wyandot II. During that time, Williams needed something to do, so he started picking up shifts at the Turner school district in KCK.
“After working seven days a week, you would think a little break would be great, but man, three months in I was just like, ‘I can’t just sit around,’” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna give something back. They need help, I’ll go help ‘em.’”
That get-er-done approach is exactly what you’d expect from the scion of Wyandot BBQ. It’s a place with unfussy ’cue: The ribs aren’t trimmed much, there’s only one sauce, and everything has plenty of smoke from a brick pit that was designed and built by the elder Ron Williams. It’s got a rotisserie with six pans for meat, and it’s entirely fired by wood—Williams prefers a mix of red oak and hickory.
There was no thought given to the idea of closing the location, Williams says. The day after the fire, he was back on site making plans to reopen.
“As soon as I got out of college, I started working for my dad and came over here,” he says. “That’s all my family’s done is the barbecue business. My dad, he doesn’t even have a computer. He’s old school and he just wants to keep it the way he made it. And that’s just how it is.”
Wyandot is emblematic of an earlier era of KC ’cue, with a catsup-based sauce, white bread and massive portions. It’s how it was when the elder Williams struck out on his own after starting in the business at Rosedale.
“It’s nothing fancy,” Williams says. “It’s almost kind of rugged and rough. We’ve never changed our food. It’s pretty much the exact same thing. We’ve added things here and there. Portions are the same size—we don’t really skimp on those.”
Wyandot II had a line wrapped around the building when it returned the Saturday after Thanksgiving and still had dozens waiting for lunch when I visited two weeks later. Loyal customers found that the whole staff had returned, save one employee who sadly passed during the year off. The brick pit remained in good shape. They had to reline the flue, but otherwise the fire “didn’t hurt it too much,” Williams says. “One of the things that’s most important to us is the real wood—we’re not using gas ovens and all that stuff,” Williams says. “We believe it’s real cooking with real wood.”
And that pit still needs to be lit hours before dawn, which means Williams is back to hitting the road at 4:30 am—a change from his 6 am wake-up time when he was substitute teaching. “Oh yeah, that was nothing, man,” Williams says with a laugh.